Home | About | Donate

Global Glaciers Melting up to Three Times Rate of 20th Century


Global Glaciers Melting up to Three Times Rate of 20th Century

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

The 21st century has already seen a record-smashing decline in the world's glaciers, which are melting at up to three times the rate of the 20th century and will continue to disappear even without further climate change, an alarming new study concludes.


The most consequential glaciers, of course, are those draining the great ice sheets over Antarctica and Greenland, where Hansen’s recent paper predicts an exponential rate of decline - doubling every decade or so. Hansen’s opinion is an outlier among climate predictions, but after all, we’re hearing strong words (again) from the dean of climate science, whose previous predictions have proven spot-on time and time again.

Another theme of Hansen’s paper is less widely known, but just as interesting: the impending transition from our current regimen, Climate 2.0, to Climate 3.0. It’s about the pole-to-equator temperature gradient - the fundamental engine of all air and water currents.

In Climate 2.0, this gradient decreases because of polar amplification - the tendency of the poles to warm more quickly than the global average. Our diminished gradient saps energy from Earth’s weather, such that the jet stream meanders like a drunk, failing to dislodge the “ridiculously resilient ridge” keeping California in drought and allowing polar vortexes to slip southward over New England.

In Climate 3.0, massive discharge of ice-sheets cools Arctic and Antarctic waters so much that the global temperature gradient turns on a dime, and becomes much stronger than usual, supercharging Earth’s weather systems. It will be an era of violent storms the likes of which humans have never experienced.


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


The last paragraph from AlephNull’s comment.

“In Climate 3.0, massive discharge of ice-sheets cools Arctic and
Antarctic waters so much that the global temperature gradient turns on a
dime, and becomes much stronger than usual, supercharging
Earth’s weather systems. It will be an era of violent storms the likes
of which humans have never experienced.”

I would extend AlephNull’s “the likes of which humans have never experienced and will ever experience again”. The species homo sapiens will be long since gone if ever some degree of environmental stability reestablishes itself on this earth. We may have only years or, if we’re lucky, at most decades left.


A classic case of ‘failure of success’ - as noted over 600 years ago by ‘Lao Tzu’ as he dropped out of the courts of the kings to go live with ‘the heathens’.

The irony to me is that dominator system could never get it right, had to inculcate cultures of willful ignorance of all that is to be sacrificed so that the extractive model can continue its path of extraction. All the centuries of willful ignorance and consequentially immoral ‘choices’ made have reversed what in western art is called object/ground relationship of human beings on the background of nature.



Hansen has never been “spot on”. He was telling us in the 90’s that by 2100 the climate would be one degree hotter and ocean levels would rise by an inch.

He was WAY, WAY, OFF with his conservative predictions which didn’t even factor in Methane release from the Arctic.

You were calling us all alarmists for predicting that things would be bad by 2020 and terminal by 2050. We were right. You were wrong. If idiots like you would have listened to people like Kem Patrick about the Methane danger, then maybe we would have ended the Naked Ape’s foolishness by now.


I think you need to reread the paper. While the drama expressed in your last paragraph is technically correct at least in part, you resort to climate change hyperbole. There are a number of inaccuracies in your post which while not consequential by themselves nevertheless are not up to your usual high standards. You forgot about the Coriolis effect’s role in powering air and water currents.

My issue is with your last paragraph - Climate 3.0.

By not giving time scale or even reference you exacerbate the error when you say that the global temperature gradient turns on a dime. What the hell are you talking about? It will not - nor could it ever. Please explain your reference?

I think what follows then is a bit of hyperbole though! You say that the global temperature gradient becomes stronger than usual? What exactly do you mean? If you mean that surface water’s at the poles will become cooled by additional glacial melt and will then have a moderating effect on air temperatures this is true to a certain extent but that is not the gradient (?) becoming stronger. Below the surface arctic waters will remain warm and continue exerting an albedo effect.

My main point however is that your Climate 3.0 scenario only takes effect after about four feet of sea level rise. I don’t think you realized that. At that point and before (imo), yes the overall heating up of the planet particularly of the oceans will permanently supercharge weather systems (storms). An ice free north pole will be warmer than one with an ice cap intact, of course. However the slipshod slipstream storms like Sandy (polar vortex) are already a reality. They will likely morph into a different variant of slipstream placement as the polar temperatures stabilize. By this I mean that the north pole will be ice free long before sea levels rise enough to get everybody’s ankles wet and perhaps decades (two or three at most) before everybody’s knees get wet. I defer to Hansen who says that we will be waist deep in the big salty by then.

Aleph I think clear explanation works best for educating people because as time goes by things get clearer even if at first they were a bit unsure about how it all works in the beginning. You leapfrogged over their generation’s future experience. Their lives in the four decades or so ahead and went straight to their grandchildren’s climate (post 2050).

I’m not disagreeing with you about what Hansen says… just disagreeing about when you say it.


Maybe I can flap my arms and fly away from the destruction. Politicians and other public officials have no sense.


I don’t understand why CD hasn’t reported on the disaster happening to the Salmon in the Pacific Northwest at this very moment. A lack of glacial melt water and snow pack has left streams and rivers low and the heat has made them too warm for returning salmon runs. A minimum of 300,000 salmon have died and as yet untold numbers of sturgeon have succumbed to the warm water conditions. The massive die off has been characterized as the worst ever and may signal the extinction of the Chinook salmon, an endangered species. Warm waters cause fungus diseases and gill rot in the cold water species and are responsible for killing off over 1.7 million baby salmon released from hatcheries which will be a critical factor in whether the species will survive. States have resorted to transporting fingerlings to cooler waters by truck in an attempt to save the species. These massive die offs are accompanied by collateral die off effects as the huge numbers dead and dying animals were food for Orcas and seals as well as other mammalian species. Native Americans are particularly worried as they have never seen such large die offs and are concerned that their ancient reliance on the salmon is ending for their people. Warm waters are causing fish die offs (outbreaks of fungus) as far north as Alaska.

The lack of precipitation has resulted in too little snow melt and disappearing glaciers are no longer providing the water needed to maintain water levels and temperature levels in rivers and streams.

Why hasn’t CD covered this truly sad event. The end of a major food species and the warning call on several others? Even when the article is about disappearing glaciers (the cause of the salmon’s demise)… there has been no coverage.


I am not on par with most of the commenters here to add any significant discussion but-
Here is an excellent site that helped me in understanding the State of the Oceans:

The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) was established to improve our understanding of the role of the ocean at an Earth System Level and its contribution to enabling life to exist on Earth.


How many times will we? Seems a given doesn’t it. Still it makes sense that after the senseless delays we’ve endured since we got robbed of Gore’s election, the struggle to save our planet has taken off finally. So I am glad that there are new studies and welcome each one.

Besides the only one I’m really afraid of is the >>> New study finds that we all are about to die tomorrow. Final report will be published next week.

Let’s pray that extinction isn’t a possibility… but you do have to wonder sometimes! I think the good times are over for our valiant species (valiant but kind of dumb) and what’s ahead is not extinction but hard times.

I pity the young.

BTW have you heard about the salmon die offs… it is really sad and scary. Everyday or week that goes by some new piece of the old bountiful world gets dumped in the trash bin of history. Once salmon were calculated in the millions and in my lifetime too. Very sad!


“Quick, fill up the tank, we’re going on a long drive! We’ve got to see those glaciers before they melt!”


I read the whole paper carefully, as well as Hansen’s book Storms of my Grandchildren, which treats the same theme. The title Hansen chose for his book conveys the timescale he has in mind for the era of unprecedented storms: within the lifetimes of his own grandchildren.

Four feet of sea-level rise, or more, could occur before mid-century, according to Hansen. In our current climate regimen, while there’s still Arctic sea-ice to clear out, the positive feedback of polar amplification decreases the global temperature gradient. When the sea-ice is gone, that feedback ends simultaneously with the uncorking of ice-sheet glaciers, and the transition to “Climate 3.0” is underway.

Massive thawing of iceberg fleets at the poles, while the equator continues to warm, results in a steeper global temperature gradient, and thus more violent storms, than humans have experienced - according to Hansen. We could see an Arctic free of summer sea-ice within a decade, easily. From there, the transition to a violently dangerous global temperature gradient could take another decade or two. “On a dime” may be ill-chosen to describe a process taking a few decades, but that’s a blink of an eye on the timescales usually relevant to climatology.


I wonder if a violent hurricane removing the dome from the Capitol Building would change the closed and shuttered minds of the majority of Republican idiots sitting on their fat a**es in Congress concerning the validity of climate change?


I enjoy your optimism.

We are hard-wired by evolution to shit in our own nest.It all started when the blue-green algae evolved to produce oxygen in in that delightful methane-CO2-nitrogen atmosphere of the early Earth and ultimately gave rise to multi-celled animals that could eat them (and to the global snowball as methane and CO2 diminished markedly around 800 million years ago). Then some more evolved multi-celled beast invented matches as his wife liked to keep warm at night…


Don’t worry. When the Gulf Stream is diverted south by the Greenland melt-water, there will be a mini ice-age across northern Europe and northeastern USA plus no doubt Canada. If that does kick in then life will become interesting and the increased albedo may deflect solar heating.


Yeah you kind of have to wonder about it at that! What we have now is a bunch of conservatives and corporatists who are maintaining that global warming isn’t real enough for them to challenge the big money boys and republican leadership. So they wait and delay, they stall and dither as the years have gone by congratulating themselves that they have stopped those flaky scientists and climate activists from changing the way things are. The problem is that when they are proven wrong, they pay no penalty so they do not worry about risk. Did George W Bush or Cheney pay for the gross incompetency and corruption that hallmarked their administration? Not a bit.

So our leaders (such as they are in Washington) do not feel the effects of their procrastination except in a perverse fashion. They make more money by stalling climate change legislation and programs. Ten years from now many will begin saying to their families words like these >>> “You know that I always was in favor of doing something about the climate but there just wasn’t enough support for that while I was in office.” Twenty years from now they be saying >>> “Dear God please forgive me, I really f’ked up. I should have listened to the scientists because I never thought it’d ever be this bad.”

Thirty years from now their grandchildren will be too embarrassed to say their name except in a curse.


Well sort of George. The Gulf Stream Drift convection has already slowed by 30% but most people do not know this. If it should stop conveying warm water up into the North Sea and the waters of the west coasts of Europe, Europe will indeed experience extremely cold winter weather in subarctic zones like Scandinavia and Russia. Britain will understand better what life is like in Quebec and Nova Scotia etc. Come summer it will be hot again. Estimates are of an extra ten days of heavy snow weather which doesn’t seem like a lot but will be a lot in places where it rarely ever snows etc.

There is much being made of catastrophic shedding of land based polar glacial caps in both Greenland and Antartica but these are two different land masses. Greenland is like a bowl which is filled with ice cubes while Antarctica is like a scoop of ice cream resting atop a slice of pie. The edges of the pie are mostly sunk so as more water get to touch the scoop of ice cream more of it melts around the edges. The more that melts - the more ice further inland starts moving and gets exposed to warmth, the faster that it slides down into the sea. Greenland’s bowl sort of limits that from happening. That still leaves lots of ice to melt in Greenland but pack ice floats around in the arctic every year and melts away so that seems less likely to be that critical. Antarctica is seriously scary when that Ice cap starts to go!

The cause of the reduced flow of the Gulf Stream Drift is that the temperature differential between the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the cooler waters of the North Atlantic are not as pronounced. Effectively the North Atlantic is getting warmer so there is less energy to ‘push’ the Gulf Stream as there once was. As the ocean warms further, the temperature differential lessens and the Gulf Stream slows even further. At some point it may stop (actually it would continue but be less powerful and remain further to the south.

The albedo effect is when floating ice which reflects back sunlight melts, it exposes more ocean to the sun’s rays which allow the exposed waters to warm more thoroughly. That is the albedo effect, so it wouldn’t deflect solar heating but in fact increase it.


I’ve always imagined a shaded highway or even shaded streets using solar panels. That’d be a lot of solar paneling stretching across literally millions of miles of roadway and be easy to maintain, cool in summer, keep the roads dry in rains and probably snow free (considering global warming) in most areas. Imagine a state like Arizona crisscrossed by shaded roadways all generating huge amounts of electricity. The state already owns the land for the road anyway.

Yeah but that would be if we were smart.

If only…


This “mini ice-age” stuff (popularized by The Day After Tomorrow) has long been regarded as balderdash, an urban legend that just will not die. From the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory:

A slowdown of the Gulf Stream and ocean circulation in the future, induced by freshening of the waters caused by anthropogenic climate change (via melting glaciers and increased water vapor transport into high latitudes) or simply by warming, would thus introduce a modest cooling tendency. This would leave the temperature contrast across the Atlantic unchanged and not plunge Europe back into the ice age or anything like it. In fact the cooling tendency would probably be overwhelmed by the direct radiatively-driven warming by rising greenhouse gases.

The Gulf Stream Myth